Ben Duckett and Nelson Mandela in the same Sentence!

The last time that England’s cricketers were in Asia, batsman Ben Duckett was there. Despite scoring three fifties (ODIs/Tests) in Bangladesh, he had a torrid time of things in India then literally pissed off top brass the following winter in Oz. Whilst the senior team lap it up in Sri Lanka and the Lions travel to UAE, Duckett can be found playing in the Mzansi Super League in South Africa. It’s the latest T20 league to pop up on the global calendar (Yeah that’s right, Canada and Hong Kong had competitions before SA!).

Representing the wonderfully named Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, The stocky left-hander smashed 75 (5×4, 5×6) runs from just 45 deliveries. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come after some lean patches post that run-laden summer a couple of years ago. Next year he’ll join Ben Slater and Joe Clarke in an exciting new batting line-up for Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. He’s probably still quite some way off an England recall but the shoots of recovery have started sprouting.

Another left-handed batsman who’ll be hoping to use the Mzansi league as a springboard back to international selection is Dawid Malan. The discarded Middlesex stalwart will lead Cape Town Blitz while domestic colleague Eoin Morgan will turn out for Tshwane Spartans. Morgan is a left-hander who doesn’t need to work his way back into the England fold, he’s already there!

Preparation Stagnation

England commence their long anticipated Test series in Sri Lanka very shortly but their preparation has lacked serious intensity. I appreciate that the climatic conditions have dealt an unfavourable hand but this scenario is nothing new to England’s cricketers.

I have always been in favour of a couple of official First Class matches on tour. These whole squad get involved matches are little more than a glorified net and are not treated as competitive matches. Whilst the individual element may seem like good prep, I strongly believe that an individual playing only one First Class warm-up rather than participating in two exhibition affairs, would be more akin to playing Test Cricket. Had Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings opened in the first of two official warm-up games in the knowledge that Joe Denly was to be presented with a chance in that slot in the second match, the pressure on them to perform would surely be more akin to actually playing Test cricket.

On the subject of Denly, he may well have played himself out of a Test debut with a shoddy performance in the warm-up matches. With mid-series tour matches almost eradicated, how do the likes of Denly or Ollie Pope restate their case for selection in situations such as these? This is a feeling that’s all too familiar to Gary Ballance!

As is often the case with any selection related article that I’ve scripted, either the landscape has changed very quickly or I was just completely misguided in my initial assessment. Surrey’s Ben Foakes now looks a likely Test debutant in the first Test and could really muddy the selection waters ahead of Jonny Bairstow’s return to fitness, by producing a good performance. Imagine if Jos Buttler falls twice to spin for single figure scores!

Somerset spinner Jack Leach also seems likely to return to skipper Joe Root’s XI and hopefully he and Foakes can convert consistent county career contributions to the international stage. England will be desperate to bounce back in Asia following their abysmal attempts in Bangladesh and India a couple of years ago.

Burns & the Blast!

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Good morning loyal followers.

Please have a listen to my latest audio cast. Bear with, it’s a little bit football dominated for the first couple of minutes!

Many thanks

England Test XI

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Please ignore any previous suggestions for England’s Test XI. Like any good selector, I’m prone to the odd wave change though of course some will criticise England’s selectors for not changing the side but now the selectors themselves are changing!

Here’s my England Test XI for the start of the summer. This does of course highlight the fact that I’m not picking a team based on the first few weeks of the First Class season.

Opening Batsmen

Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett

I genuinely think that the defensive/offensive contrast of messrs Hameed and Duckett could blossom for England. That’s not to say that I don’t think Hameed is capable of attacking when necessary and Duckett can’t survive when he has too. Yes I’ve criticised England for not preparing properly for New Zealand and Duckett is currently injured but he can be England’s David Warner. He has the ability to make big hundreds. He struggled in Asia but in home conditions against subcontinental opposition is the perfect scenario in which to just let him at ’em!

Number Three

Moeen Ali/Liam Livingstone

This is a tough one because I’ve always wanted Moeen to have a run in his domestic role but such has been his ineptitude recently that Livingstone is pushing his case. Both offer something with the ball to support my number one spinner (We’ll come to him later) but it’s for batting alone that we need to select a number three, though Livingstone is a bloody good fielder. Both are attacking batsman and could help England really get themselves ahead of the game by the time Joe Root comes to the crease. Joe Clarke and Daniel-Bell Drummond will be waiting in the wings should Mo and Livingstone fail to deliver.

Middle order

Joe Root and Dawid Malan

Move them back to four and five for goodness sake!

Root doesn’t want to bat at three and Malan has delivered at five so I just don’t understand the logic of moving them each up a position. Based on the XI that I’ve selected, I’m sticking with Root as skipper. If the top three can perform as I believe they can then the burden and pressure on Root will be eased. The captain can come out and play, enjoy himself and not just have to look to survive. With Hameed, Duckett and Moeen/Livingstone up top, Root can come to the crease with the score more 100-2 not 20-2, sometimes at least.

Malan performed well in Australia but must now back it up. I’m very content with him staying at five. I guess that it’s the easiest place in the order for a specialist batsman but he’s earned that right. There’s still enough to come after him for him to be able to make big scores.

Late Middle Order

Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes

A fully fit and focused Stokes at six helps England immensely with bat and ball. Now is the time for him to deliver some Flintoffesque performances.

Jonny Bairstow has been efficient behind the stumps and if he can transfer his ODI batting to the Test side, not that he’s been performing that badly in Tests, then England are in for a treat.

The higher Chris Woakes bats the more England will get from him. Like Moeen, it’s about mentality and if you bat higher and closer to your domestic position then you’re more likely to bat appropriately. In England against India and Pakistan should be the sort of summer that Woakes enjoys with the ball.

Opening Bowlers

Ben Coad/Mark Footitt and James Anderson

James Anderson can and should still lead the line for England. His skill coupled with his current fitness mean that there’s no need to rush to replace him. I’ve dropped Stuart Broad. He could be recalled based on domestic form and rotating of the pacers. He could also very likely be in my ODI and possibly T20I side but I’d start the summer without him in the Test XI.

I see Ben Coad as a Josh Hazlewood type bowler. I mean this in the sense that he can go a little under the radar when batsman are worrying about Mitchell Starc, James Anderson or have been with Ryan Sidebottom at Yorkshire. I’m sure that lots of people would campaign for others. In fact Toby Roland-Jones would be mighty close and probably come into the equation during the summer.

I’ve campaigned for Footitt before. The variety of a left-armer in the attack would be welcomed by Joe Root. I’d just leave Sam Curran for now, probably introduce him in ODIs. I don’t see Footitt playing every Test or taking hundreds of wickets but as an occasional option to turn to from time to time, he could be invaluable. Yes he would leak a few runs but that can be tolerated if Anderson and Woakes etc are keeping it tidy and Footitt can deliver three or four unplayable wicket taking deliveries to see off opposition batsmen. Craig Overton is a little unlucky to miss out but would also be considered for ODIs. I don’t see Mark Wood as our saviour.

Spin Bowling

Jack Leach

He’s earned it, had more than just one good season now, returned from technical changes and should be provided the entire summer to take the rough with the smooth. There’s enough batting to not be concerned about that. So he took some tap in Australia on tour but so did Nathan Lyon. If anything, Leach’s main threat may come from his Somerset teammate Dom Bess but come trips to the subcontinent or West Indies, pairing the two of them together is the same applied logic as Dele Alli playing behind Harry Kane for England’s football team… although that’s a poor comparison because I’m hinting that Alli hasn’t really performed recently (Start a football blog Paul!).

There it is:

Hameed, Duckett, Mo/LL?, Root (C), Malan, Stokes, Bairstow (W), Woakes (VC), Coad/Footitt, Anderson, Leach

I’m certain that many people will scoff at the notion of players such as Duckett, Coad and Footitt being anywhere near the England team but I don’t want this new selection panel to sit on fences. They need to make big and brave calls. I believe the selectors should be seen more than they are. I mean that rather than television and newspaper reporters interviewing the coach it should be the selectors, the one at the top at least, that are interviewed. They should be very open and honest about players, those in the team and those that are not and players should be able to deal with what the selectors say in public.

That’s my team and I’d stick and run with it for the summer, only rotating one pacer every Test or two which I think is necessary.

Now let’s all watch Mark Stoneman score a century and Moeen Ali, Craig Overton and Stuart Broad each score fifties and take a five-for in the second Test in New Zealand!

World Cup Equality

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You’ll have to forgive me for committing the ultimate sin on a cricket blog but I’m about to ramble on (For quite some time!) about football. This is of course my blog so I can do what I want!

Qualification for the 2018 football World Cup in Russia has well and truly reached the business end. All that remains are the heartbreaking play-off matches to determine which counters join the likes of Panama, Iceland and Iran in Russia next year. I’ll hazard a guess that Iceland will find acclimatising to the Russian climate just a bit easier than Panama. It’s also safe to say that none of the three nations mentioned above will be qualifying for the cricket World Cup anytime soon.

Back to the footy, here’s a breakdown of the percentage of teams from each continental region that will qualify for the football World Cup:

South America: 4 out of 10 teams = 40%

Europe: 13 out of 54 teams = 24%

The Americas: 4 out of 35 teams = 11%

Africa: 5 out of 54 teams = 9%

Asia: 4 out of 46 teams = 9%

Oceania: 1 (And maybe not even that) out of 11 teams = 1%

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the above calculations are based on a couple of assumptions regarding who qualifies via the intercontinental play-offs. Oceania are not guaranteed a World Cup representative and for the record, Australia qualify through the Asian pathway because they got bored of thrashing Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa time and time again.

Referring to the percentages above, the tournament title of World Cup starts to lose some of its credibility. There’s clearly a disproportionate amount of teams that qualify from the historical footballing hotbeds of Europe and South America. That historical bias is of course something that is extremely prevalent on the international cricket stage too.

Back to the three nations mentioned earlier. Iran qualified for the football World Cup as far back as 1978 but for Panama and Iceland, 2018 will be their first time at the tournament. That variety of nations on the big stage and the novelty of seeing virgin World Cup competitors is part of what makes the tournament so special. USA beating England in 1950, North Korea beating Italy in 1966 and Senegal beating France in 2002. Without these results the football World Cup just wouldn’t be what it is. Admittedly there have been a few thrashings as the likes of Saudi Arabia (8-0 against Germany in 2002) and Zaire (9-0 against Yugoslavia in 1974) will attest too.

The 2019 Cricket World Cup is unlikely to see such a variety of international representatives or virgin teams as Russia will next year. There will only be ten teams, yes just ten teams at the ‘World’ Cup. Eight of these teams will have qualified as the highest ranked ODI nations. It’s great that the ODI rankings comprise more nations than just Test teams but no promotion/relegation profile is in existence at the upper echelons of international cricket. Referring to the historical bias detailed in football earlier, little scope is left for a changing of the guard as the years go by. The head honchos eat at the main table with one or two varying visitors from time to time.

I’ll be honest, every time I try to get my head around the meritocracy of lower division international cricket and World Cup qualification, I end up closing the page out of sheer bewilderment. From what I can gather, it’s possible that teams in ICC World Cricket League Division Two can qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup but some teams from Division One may not. Don’t quote me on that though! In all likelihood none of them will anyway, such is the convoluted qualification process.

Feel free to put me to shame and figure the whole thing our for yourself…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Cricket_World_Cup_Qualifier

Teams such as Papua New Guinea and Ireland could be there though the likes of West Indies and possibly Afghanistan will be favoured to qualify for the ten team tournament. Surely a straight forward main tournament of sixteen teams comprised of four groups of four followed by quarter-finals etc would be logical. Yes there have been some horribly one-sided encounters at cricket World Cups, think Namibia at the hands of Australia in 1970 and one or two Canadian performances (36 & 45 all out in 2003 and 1979) but there has also been Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983, Kenya beating West Indies in 1996 and Ireland beating Pakistan in 2007.

There are so few teams at the Cricket World Cup that a comparison with football for regional disproportionateness is completely irrelevant. In fact to be fair, there isn’t really a geographic disproportion, just a lack of global representatives in general.

Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is that regardless of sport, a World Cup should be exactly that, a tournament that has a fair and even distribution of teams from across the globe. The football World Cup isn’t perfect but hopefully in the future cricket will allow for the Senegals and North Koreas of the footballing world to have the opportunity at least to produce some shocks that will reverberate around the cricket world.

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